The first time Celine Dion shows up as herself in the mostly predictable romcom Love Again, she’s handing down icy answers to a room full of reporters asking inane questions about her upcoming concert tour. But our leading man, Rob (Sam Heughan), music critic for the fictional New York Chronicle, is distracted by some unusual messages he’s been receiving from a mystery texter. Dion chides him for having his phone on and inquires as to whether he’s going to ask her something. Rob fumbles, then pressures the singer to explain some of her esoteric lyrics about love.
“You obviously know nothing about it,” Dion replies. “What?” Rob says. “Love,” Dion answers, with perfect poise, to snickers from the rest of the press pool (and Rob’s acute embarrassment).
But while the Canadian superstar was accurately reading Love Again’s often hapless male protagonist, the comment might also apply to the movie itself, loosely adapted from a German movie and novel, which attempts to patch together a compelling romance from nothing but its core celebrity gimmick and maudlin meditations on grief.
Rob’s mystery texter, you see, is an artist and children’s book author named Mira (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), who has yet to move on after losing the love of her life in a tragic accident. The film opens with their last, affectionate moments together in a café before her boyfriend steps out, and — in an unforgivable twist — is run down by a drunk driver before Mira’s very eyes. At least we only see her stunned reaction as opposed to the carnage itself, but the sequence is still a strong argument for subtlety in depicting trauma. It doesn’t help that her beau is a Black man, which means his abrupt and immediate death echoes an unpleasant trope from horror movies.
Anyway, two years later, Mira is still struggling, and when a friend who happens to be a widower tells her that in the evening he likes to pour a glass of wine and tell his late wife about his day, she tries something similar: texting her beloved’s old phone number to articulate how much she misses him. That number, however, is now assigned to a work cell given to Rob by his employers. Rob, in the midst of paralyzing heartbreak because his fiancée dumped him a week before their wedding — zero context on that, by the way — is moved by her passionate yearning. Following a clue in her references, he manages to engineer a magical “chance” encounter at an opera house, confirm her identity without giving himself away, and ask her out.
You already know the rest, right down to the Nick Jonas cameo, and Love Again plays out against the backdrop of a New York that is very much Sex and the City by way of bog-standard Netflix offerings: the apartments and offices are far too luxurious, the side characters are boilerplate sarcastic, the entire plot unfolds on phone screens (despite some jabs at dating apps), and Rob’s editor gives him a whole month to do nothing but blow off the Celine Dion profile he’s been assigned. Though even that is slightly more plausible than his depiction of a Brit who actively roots for the Knicks.
Perhaps these missteps would be less noticeable were it not for Dion herself, who easily surpasses the narrative while on screen — and utterly dominates it through the soundtrack, to which she contributes five new songs alongside revered classics like “All By Myself.” She has the few laugh lines, including a throwaway about Drake getting a tattoo of her face, as she becomes a life coach and emotional guru to Rob and Mira, schooling them on the entwined forces of love and loss as reflected in her own romance with husband René Angélil, who died in 2016.
While her advice is as impeccable as her power turtlenecks, it is of course Dion’s overwhelming voice and music that flood your heart, not this flimsy and occasionally morbid story. It may imbue one scene or another with unearned intensity, momentarily convincing you that you’ve connected with these characters. In the aggregate, however, it’s ridiculous watching them strain to be worthy of such a score. Whatever the movie’s sporadic charms, it’s simply too small for Celine, who can only be matched by a drama with the sweep and scale of Titanic.
Or, just spitballing here, maybe Dion ought to be the star, not relegated to the role of supportive matchmaker (and executive producer). Is that so crazy? The premise of Love Again, and the personal material Dion brings to it, imply a tale in which the pop icon opens herself up again after saying goodbye to René, searching for the spark that will inspire her music to ever grander heights. No offense to Heughan and Jonas, perfectly acceptable leads for a paint-by-numbers Hallmark special, but one can’t help but think we missed the chance to see a great artist find herself — and soar.